Criminology professor testifies in Inter-American human rights case

Dr. María Gómez

Dr. María Gómez

A Saint Mary’s professor provided expert testimony in a high-profile human rights case heard last week in Barranquilla, Colombia.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights held a public hearing on August 27 for the case Rojas Marin y Otra Vs. Perú. It is the first case relating to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity to reach the highest regional human rights court.

Dr. María Gómez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology, served as an expert witness on behalf of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), which has a mandate to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.

The case relates to Azul Rojas Marín, who was detained by members of the National Police of Peru in Casa Grande on Feb. 25, 2008, allegedly for purposes of identification. Marín claimed three guards exercised physical and sexual violence against her, and that she endured verbal attacks based on her sexual orientation. A transgender woman, Marín identified as a gay man at the time of the detention. A criminal complaint was pursued but 11 years later, no one has been held accountable. Azul took the case to the IACHR, with legal assistance from several human rights advocacy groups.

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Dr. Gómez delivered her evidence before a panel of seven judges at the human rights court, as well as legal representatives of both Marín and the State. As part of the requested testimony, she presented her account of the category of "violence based on prejudice" as a tool to identify the context and operations of structural discrimination.

"I think this was a privileged platform to impact the understanding of violence based on sexual and gender prejudice in the Inter-American system of human rights, as well as the role of the State when its agents are the perpetrators,” Dr. Gomez said of the experience, upon returning to Halifax last week.

“But overall, it was a way of supporting the victims of this type of violence and the regional civil society organizations that, under considerable risk, have dedicated their efforts to bring the attention of the human rights system to cases like this. "

The Court reserved judgment and is expected to deliver a decision in the coming months. The hearing was live-streamed in Spanish; the webcast is available at https://vimeo.com/347339620 (Dr. Gomez’s testimony begins at 2:56).

For more background on the case, see:

· Azul Rojas Marín: the historical denunciation of the transgender woman who accuses the Peruvian police of rape and torture, BBC Mundo, August 28, 2019

· IACHR Takes Case Involving Peru to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, OAS news release, August 27, 2018

Dr. Gómez is a Canadian-Colombian academic and human rights activist. Prior to joining Saint Mary’s, she taught at the University de los Andes in Colombia, Eugene Lang College in New York City, and Dalhousie University. She is a co-founder and former general coordinator (2012-2014) of the Red Latinoamericana de académicas/os del derecho (RED ALAS), which seeks to increase the legal academy’s role in advancing sexual and gender equality, and was Regional Program Coordinator at OutRight Action International (2013-2016), for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Her current research focuses on State’s responses to prejudice and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. She is interested in the politics of hate crime, gender and sexuality; political and criminological theories; socio-legal studies; and the intersection between criminology and cultural studies. She is also cross-appointed to the Graduate Program on Women and Gender Studies.

- Submitted by Marla Cranston, Faculty of Art